OFFICE OF THE PRIME MINISTER’S SCIENCE ADVISORY COMMITTEE Looking Ahead: Science Education for the Twenty-First Century A report from the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor April 2011 Science Education for the 21st Century Office of the Prime Minister’s Science Advisory Committee PO Box 108-117, Symonds Street, Auckland 1150, New Zealand Telephone: +64 9 923 1788 Website: www. pmcsa. org. nz Email: [email protected] org. nz ISBN 978-0-477-10336-7 (paperback) ISBN 978-0-477-10337-4 (PDF) Page ii Science Education for the 21st Century Contents Letter to the Prime Minister Looking Ahead: Science Education for the Twenty-First Century 1. . 3. 4. Preamble The purpose of science education in the school years Primary school education Secondary schools 4. 1. Objectives and life skills 4. 2. Pre-professional science education 5. Equity 6. Final remarks v 1 1 3 4 5 5 6 7 8 ANNEX A: Inspired by Science 1. Introduction 2. A brief history of science education 2. 1. Evolution of the curriculum 2. 2. Purposes of science education 2. 3. In summary 2. 4. Notes to Section 2 3. Engagement and achievement in science 3. 1. What is engagement? 3. 2. What is achievement? 3. 3. Assessment tools 3. 4. Achievement 3. 5. Engagement 3. 6.
Opportunities to learn science 3. 7. In summary 3. 8. Notes to Section 3 4. Young people, schooling and science in the 21st century 4. 1. Changes in society, work and young people 4. 2. Changes in the purposes of schooling 4. 3. New theories of learning 4. 4. Changes in science 4. 5. Notes to Section 4 5. Considering the options 5. 1. Scenario 5. 2. Advantages and disadvantages 5. 3. A way forward 5. 4. Notes to Section 5 6. Appendix 1: achievement data A-9 A-10 A-11 A-11 A-15 A-19 A-20 A-25 A-25 A-26 A-27 A-27 A-30 A-32 A-35 A-36 A-39 A-39 A-40 A-41 A-43 A-44 A-46 A-47 A-49 A-50 A-50 A-51 Page iii
Science Education for the 21st Century ANNEX B: Engaging Young New Zealanders with Science – Priorities for Action in School Science Education 1. Introduction 2. The purpose of science education 3. The increasing complexity of science 3. 1. Linkages between schools and science communities 3. 2. Utilising ICT – beyond static platforms 3. 3. Professional development 4. Integration of science into teaching and learning in primary schools 4. 1. Pre-service training 4. 2. Access to professional development 4. 3. Science champions 5. Providing for the diversity of goals in secondary school classrooms 6.
The needs of students achieving below expectations B-55 B-56 B-57 B-59 B-59 B-60 B-60 B-61 B-61 B-62 B-62 B-63 B-66 Page iv Science Education for the 21st Century Letter to the Prime Minister The Prime Minister Rt Hon. John Key Private Bag 18041 Parliament Buildings Wellington 6160 23 November 2010 Dear Prime Minister Re: Science Education In accord with my terms of reference, over the last year I have been evaluating the state of, and future direction of, science education at both primary and secondary school levels. I have engaged in extensive consultation with the relevant stakeholders.
In association with the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology and the Royal Society of New Zealand, I commissioned a technical report from the New Zealand Council for Educational Research entitled Inspired by Science. This was subjected to stakeholder consultation and, following this, I formed a small expert group to produce a second paper making recommendations and suggestions for enhancement of science education. Their paper, entitled Engaging Young New Zealanders with Science: Priorities for Action in School Science Education, is attached.
This paper was also subject to stakeholder consultation, including with the Ministry of Education. Naturally this paper focuses largely on the current situation and near-term matters. With these as background documents, I have taken a higher level and long term view and projected what are the challenges and opportunities for enhancing science education for the benefit of the whole of New Zealand society and our national productivity. My own Page v Science Education for the 21st Century report is entitled Looking Ahead: Science Education for the Twenty-First Century. All three reports are attached.
In summary, New Zealand has a well performing science education system although, as in other countries, there are concerning deficits for parts of the community. However, the changing nature of science and the changing role of science in society create potential major challenges for all advanced societies in the coming decades. A forward looking science education system is fundamental to our future success in an increasingly knowledge based world, and my report highlights a few major challenges and opportunities and suggests areas where significant enhancement may be possible by closer interaction between the school and science communities.
I acknowledge the considerable contribution of a large number of people in this project, in particular Mr Richard Meylan of the Royal Society of New Zealand, Mrs Jacquie Bay of LENScience and Ms Sarah Gibbs from my Office, and the support of the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology. Yours sincerely Sir Peter Gluckman KNZM FRS FRSNZ Chief Science Advisor Page vi Science Education for the 21st Century Looking Ahead: Science Education for the Twenty-First Century Sir Peter Gluckman KNZM FRS FRSNZ Chief Science Advisor 1. Preamble
One of my terms of reference is to consider how to ensure that young New Zealanders are enthused by science and able to participate fully in a smart country where knowledge and innovation are at the heart of both economic growth and social development. Science education in primary and secondary school is an essential element. There is an international consensus that a strong science education system in the school years is a necessary prerequisite to having an economy based on knowledge and innovation. Anecdotally, many people consider that there are significant problems within our science education system.
Yet when one discusses these matters, one gets rather vague and inconsistent descriptions of their perceived concerns. Clearly those who have entered the science profession are concerned to see that those who follow them are adequately qualified to do so. But the voiced concerns regarding science education go well beyond such individuals into the lay community. In most cases there is a very vague understanding of what is actually happening and criticisms are often based on either personal experience of a generation ago, or on a particular experience of one of their children or friends’ children.
Given the vagueness of these expressed concerns about the quality of science education in schools, my Office embarked on an extensive programme to understand fully the issues at hand and determine whether any steps are needed to develop a more effective and appropriate system that helps to meet the national vision. Firstly, in conjunction with the Royal Society of New Zealand and the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology (MoRST), I commissioned a report from the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER). This report, entitled Inspired by Science, extensively Page 1
Science Education for the 21st Century evaluated the literature regarding science education in the primary and secondary school years. The report was iteratively reviewed between the NZCER and a project management team consisting of representatives of my Office and the Royal Society. The report took cognisance of the evolving understandings of the purposes of science education globally, the history of science education in New Zealand, and the pedagogical and practical issues surrounding improvements in the provision of science education.
This report is attached (Annex A) Following receipt of this report, I chaired an extensive consultation with the education community, including representatives of primary and secondary schools, the Ministry of Education, and science education experts from the tertiary sector and others with an interest in science education. This led to the development of a discussion paper entitled Engaging Young New Zealanders with Science prepared by my Office, assisted by Mr Richard Meylan of the Royal Society and Mrs Jacquie Bay from the Liggins Educational Network for Science (LENScience).
This draft paper was itself circulated for consultation with the reference group before it was finalised. It takes the NZCER report and the additional information we received by way of consultation and feedback and suggests some practical ways ahead in enhancing science education in primary and secondary schools within New Zealand. This report is also attached (Annex B) I have taken these as background pieces, and projected from these more immediately focused papers to the longer term.
Whereas by definition those two documents could be anticipated to look at the immediate and practical considerations affecting both pupils and teachers, my comments are intended to be more forward looking, bearing in mind your desire, and indeed the country’s need, to move quickly towards being a more innovative and smart nation. It needs to be said at the outset that in my view school science education in New Zealand is not in terrible shape. Indeed, by international standards we perform well, but unfortunately we have a long tail of underachievement and we need to be thinking now about the challenges that are emerging.
It is these that my commentary focused upon. It is important to note that science education is not just for those who see their careers involving science but is an essential component of core knowledge that every member of our society requires. Given the growing importance of science to our society, I think there are opportunities for New Zealand to further advance its human capital development such that we are better equipped to become a smart nation. In this commentary and the associated reports I have focused on science education in primary and secondary schools.
It may be that attention to science education in other sectors would also enhance the nation’s competitive ability – for example, I am aware of programmes in Europe that provide learning opportunities in scientific and technological developments for the adult workforce. Such extensions of ‘traditional’ science education may be worth considering in the future. I have not extended the discussion to a consideraPage 2 Science Education for the 21st Century tion of mathematics and numeracy, although some elements of my report have relevancy to those domains as well. 2. The purpose of science education in the school years
There is no doubt that the role of science in modern society is changing. It is very different to that of a generation ago. Increasingly the challenges we face as a community – be it at the global level such as dealing with climate change or at the local level such as the problems of an ageing population, of environmental degradation, or of enhancing our economic productivity through science and innovation – all depend on science. There is no challenge affecting our society which does not have science and technology associated with finding an appropriate solution.
Accordingly, the Platonic view that certain areas of knowledge can be left to experts alone is not acceptable in a modern democracy. I contend that all citizens need to have some level of understanding of the scientific issues that governments and society confront. The problem is made even more acute because the nature of science has changed. Rather than dealing with simple systems, increasingly science is dealing with complex issues such as interrelated physical and biological changes in the environment.
Science has moved over the last 100 years from being a method that yields certainty and exactitude to a process by which complex systems are studied and modelled and knowledge is expressed in terms of increased probability and reduced uncertainty, but never in terms of absolutes. A further issue that has emerged has been the growth of the internet, which has meant that increasingly the information available to citizens is of an unfiltered nature – it may come from a reliable or an unreliable source, but the reader may not have the skill to ascertain the difference.
Accordingly, what is seen to be ‘information’ is not necessarily dependable or useful or even safe. Given that the internet is increasingly going to be the way in which people seek knowledge that affects their lives, providing the skills to distinguish reliable from unreliable information is an important part of modern education. The NZCER report (Annex A) highlights the often unrecognised but increasingly important observation that science education now has several distinct objectives.
The first is that which most parents think of as the traditional role of science education, namely to provide children with the knowledge in physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics that will allow them to enter tertiary education in a domain where those skills will be useful. I shall term this pre-professional education. But there are three other related objectives of science education for all young people during their compulsory school years – I term these citizen-focused objectives.
First, all children need to have a practical knowledge at some level of how things work – not in detail but with enough understanding to appreciate the technological environment in which they live and work, the environmental complexities of the world they live in, and the way the biological world, including their own body, works. Secondly, all children need to have some knowledge of how the scientific process operates and have some level of sciPage 3
Science Education for the 21st Century entific literacy so that they can take an informed participatory role in the science-related decisions that society must take – ranging from climate change to the use of new assisted reproductive technologies. Thirdly, all children need to have enough knowledge of scientific thinking as part of their development of general intellectual skills so that they are able to distinguish reliable information from less reliable information. These itizen-focused objectives are quite distinct in their nature, and probably in their pedagogical basis, from traditional pre-professional education, which has been the usual form of science education at the secondary school level. However, while distinctions can and should be drawn, modern pre-professional science education should also aspire to engage students in understanding of how the scientific process operates and engage them in thinking about socio-scientific challenges facing society. These issues are well discussed in the NZCER report.
My belief is that this difference between pre-professional education and the more citizenfocused objectives of science education has grown in importance and will do so even more in the coming decades, such that radical changes in the nature of the science education curriculum will be needed. It is likely, in my view, that there will be, at some time in the not too distant future, a separation of curricula for the citizen-focused objectives from those for pre-professional science education throughout secondary schooling.
This is required to enable the majority of students to continue to engage in science education beyond year 11, addressing the challenge of creating a scientifically literate population. 3. Primary school education Most primary school children are enthralled by the world around them. They have a spirit of enquiry and an enthusiasm for life that needs to be encouraged in every way. But most primary school teachers come from a background in the humanities and are ill-prepared for the increasingly complex questions about science that primary school children might throw at them.
If teachers are not able to answer children’s questions at primary school with confidence and enthusiasm, then children detect that lack of confidence and enthusiasm and that spirit of enquiry can be lost. This is a particular challenge as the sources of questions that children throw at the primary school teacher are broader and more sophisticated than a generation ago by virtue of the influence of access to the internet and electronic media.
There has been debate – much of it uninformed – regarding whether science should be a distinct part of the curriculum in a primary school as opposed to an integral part of the normative programme of primary school education which is about creating thinking skills, literacy, numeracy and socialisation. A well prepared primary school teacher will integrate excitement about the natural world and scientific forms of thinking into literacy and numeracy teaching, and into general educational processes.
The challenge is how to provide primary school teachers with the skills to do so. It seems to me that this is a particular issue for primary school educational training and there is a need to ensure that within every primary school there are resources and champions able to assist teachers less confident in Page 4 Science Education for the 21st Century providing that sense of scientific enquiry and scientific enthusiasm to young minds.
I note that there are several proposals in development for in-service training to provide primary school teachers with such skills. In summary, with regard to primary schools I believe there should be an attempt to improve the confidence of all teachers within primary schools to assist in science and that all primary schools should be encouraged to develop a science champion. This role may in some cases have to be networked between schools so that resources and knowledge can be quickly achieved. 4. Secondary schools 4. 1.
Objectives and life skills As I have already stated, there are at least two distinct objectives of science education at secondary school – the first is that of pre-professional education which is traditionally for careers needing science, usually arranged around mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and perhaps general science. The second is the citizen-focused need for all children as they mature to have a clear understanding of the complex world of science that they will confront as citizens over the next 60 years of their lives.
Whether these two sets of objectives can be met with one pedagogical approach and one curriculum is uncertain. I suspect that over the next ten years we will see these two curricular purposes diverge. One requires students to discuss issues such as climate change from the perspective of understanding its implications, understanding the various strategies that might be used to mitigate or adapt to it, and understanding the complex choices which they as citizens are going to have to make in a world that is warming.
In contrast, those in pre-professional training also need to understand issues such as the physics and chemistry of the atmosphere and the biological mechanisms by which global warming will have effects on health and biodiversity. These are distinct purposes. A related issue, not considered by my reference groups but that emerges from the other work programmes in which I have been active, including the adolescent taskforce, is that of life skills education.
Much of what happens to people in their lives depends on their understanding of their own body – what they eat, whether they take drugs, how they use alcohol, whether they smoke, how much they exercise, when they choose to reproduce. All of these are individual choices that the scientific literature shows are more likely to be made in a healthy direction if young people have an appreciation of how their body works, how brain cells talk to each other, how the kidney works, what the liver does, what happens to food you eat, and so forth.
This set of life skills is critical to having a population that takes personal responsibility for its health, and I believe that, along with general science literacy, health literacy from both a scientific and social perspective is an area which should be handled by a general curriculum available to all secondary school students in addition to pre-professional science education. This does not replace the role of the family, but the reality is that the world has changed so much that family experience Page 5 Science Education for the 21st Century does not help young people sufficiently in all these domains.
For example, the obesity epidemic cannot be handled unless all young people have the nutritional knowledge that most families just do not have. 4. 2. Pre-professional science education Pre-professional science education itself will have to morph as the traditional boundaries of physics, chemistry and biology are changing – the scope of biology in particular has broadened enormously to include ecology, environmental sciences and molecular biology in addition to the traditional areas of botany and zoology. I suspect that, over the next decade, we will ave to see a new grouping of scientific subjects at the secondary school level to meet the changing balance of science and technologies. A particular problem at secondary schools is recruiting and retaining well qualified science teachers. The problem is whether the career of being a science educator is sufficiently rewarding. I suggest that changes in the way in which science education will evolve over the next decade offers opportunities for this to become a more personally rewarding career, but it cannot do so unless the status of science teachers is adequate so as to compete against the demands for scientists in other domains.
The biggest problem a science teacher has is that no matter how well qualified they are when they leave university, given the pace of change in science – particularly in biological sciences – their capacity to maintain knowledge of relevance to what they need to teach is limited by time. What a biology graduate knew twenty years ago is of little relevance to the biology of this decade. If teaching does not occur within the realm of relevance then the pupil cannot be engaged and encouraged by it.
Opportunity for significant ongoing professional development in science as well as in education is essential. A related issue is access to modern technologies. Modern science technologies are often expensive, and yet to teach about a subject such as DNA without the student or the teacher having access to laboratories to demonstrate key points about DNA is in fact very inhibiting. And the rate of change in scientific technologies means that no school can cope.
These two related challenges – relevance of knowledge and access to technology – are at the heart of the need to develop a new form of secondary school science education. This will increasingly depend on both teachers and students having a closer relationship with the science community. To some extent, teachers can be assisted to keep their relevance by giving them short sabbatical periods to spend in a research laboratory, and that certainly helps build both their confidence and their relationships to the science community.
We have seen a number of developments in New Zealand whereby the science community has made itself accessible to schools. Examples include the Liggins Educational Network for Science in Auckland, which brings several thousand children a year into direct contact with scientists and with modern science technologies not available in their schools, and the web-based Science Learning Hub developed by the University of Waikato that inks schools with New Zealand’s research community. Page 6 Science Education for the 21st Century In these examples, there is perhaps a clue to what the future of science education might become. Given the rapid developments in broadband, it seems that it is most likely that in a decade’s time science education of a pre-professional nature will be a new form of partnership between schools and the science community.
The science teacher will be responsible for the pedagogical format and content, whereas the science community will provide, by way of demonstration, access and expertise, the necessary relevance, content and practical experience. If this is to be a successful model, it would require a change in the way in which the science community is funded so that its activities in this area are appropriately regulated, funded and incentivised.
In turn, this leads to a consideration of a further set of resources whose place in the future needs to be better considered. These are the community facilities such as museums and science centres, in which pupils should be allowed access not just to “show-and-tell” demonstrations but to practical experimental opportunities which invigorate and support their learning. Again, given the speed with which science is changing, these resources may become a much more integral part of the formal science education process.
There are many opportunities here, and the key issue will be to experiment appropriately with these new approaches with proper assessment processes in place to identify which new paradigms are effective and those which are not. 5. Equity Certainly at the top end of the system, our science educators produce very fine students well prepared for tertiary education, but as in other countries we have a long tail of children who do not get adequate exposure to science, who are turned off science and who do not have even the most basic of scientific literacy skills.
Unfortunately this tail is disproportionately long in areas of socioeconomic disadvantage with high Maori and Pasifika populations. There are particular challenges in the Maori community created by those schools wishing to teach in Te Reo, as the full scope of scientific language is not yet available and there are very few science teachers who are fluent in Te Reo. It is controversial and well beyond my scope to consider how to address this issue while respecting the wealth of traditional Maori understanding of the natural world.
One must ask whether it is a priority to develop a full modern scientific language within Te Reo Maori or whether, given the international dominance of English as the basis of teaching and practicing science, teaching of science and mathematics at the senior level in Te Reo schools should use English as the internationally shared language of science. I acknowledge that this is a very difficult issue, but one which I believe Maori educators should consider in some depth.
I believe that the use of new technologies and closer partnerships between the science community and the educational community offer a way ahead for both advantaged and disadvantaged schools. The use of broadband-based teaching to enable interaction between learning communities allows schools which are disadvantaged in terms of science teaching skills and infrastructure to achieve as well as high-decile schools. Page 7 Science Education for the 21st Century 6. Final remarks This commentary together with its attached reports suggests a way ahead for improving science education in New Zealand.
New Zealand must embrace science and technology and innovative thinking as a core strategy for its way ahead. There is no doubt in my mind that a population better educated in science, whether or not they will actually use science in their career, is essential. I believe that by encouraging innovative thinking by educational policy makers, teachers and the science community, and by thinking more laterally about how science education might be conducted, we might move from what is an adequate but promising situation to one that could be outstanding. Page 8 Annex A: Inspired by Science ANNEX A
Inspired by Science A paper commissioned by the Royal Society of New Zealand and the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor A. Bull, J. Gilbert, H. Barwick, R. Hipkins and R. Baker New Zealand Council for Educational Research August 2010 Page A-9 Annex A: Inspired by Science 1. Introduction This paper has been commissioned by the Royal Society of New Zealand and the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor in conjunction with the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology to encourage debate on how better to engage students with science, with a particular focus on the role of schools.
It examines the assumption that there is a problem with engagement in science and reviews research on the dimensions, context and causes of a perceived or actual problem. The paper looks at what we are trying to achieve currently through school science education and whether there is an increasing mismatch between science education of today and the demands of the 21st century. The focus of this paper is the current provision of science education.
Science and technology have some areas of commonality and overlap and for that reason, as well as the fact that much international literature discusses them together, the paper does at some points address both. However, this paper discusses technology only as it relates to science and the application of science ideas, it does not attempt or claim to do justice to the many other dimensions of technology such as the purposeful invention and design of products of the future.
Section 2 looks at the history of science education, discusses how subjects came to be included in the school curriculum and looks at why science was included among them. It explores some of the purposes of school science programmes, in particular, those that have informed the development of New Zealand’s school science curriculum. It argues that the actual curriculum delivered in schools tends to be a rather muddled mixture of purposes and, because of this, it doesn’t meet any of them particularly well.
Section 3 reviews New Zealand and international evidence on what students think about science and how well they achieve in it, including how well they perform compared with young people in countries similar to ours. Section 4 addresses what has changed in society, in science, and in schooling and why it is that the goals, content and teaching approaches that evolved to meet the needs of a different kind of society may no longer serve the needs and interests of today’s young people.
Furthermore, it questions whether science teaching approaches actually fit well with the practices of science or with what we now know about learning. Finally, the paper explores possible ways forward. It does this by presenting a scenario of how school science could be developed and draws on some examples of international current practice that illustrate aspects of the scenario. It suggests that an important first step in engaging more young people in science could be to convene a forum of scientists, educationalists and policy makers to debate the future of science education in New Zealand.
The paper is designed for scientists, educators and policy makers, in fact for anyone who is thinking about how we best educate our students to participate fully and successfully in a world where an understanding of science and technology has become increasingly necessary. It is not a comprehensive review of New Zealand’s students’ achievements in science, nor is it a critique of our National Curriculum. Its primary intent is to take a straPage A-10 Annex A: Inspired by Science tegic look at how science education can best meet the needs of our emerging adults and our country. . A brief history of science education Some studies indicate that many New Zealanders’ levels of understanding of and interest in science are not as high as they could be and the number of young people choosing to study science at school once it is no longer compulsory is steadily decreasing. This is a problem for at least two reasons. First, if we are to be able to replace, and even increase, our existing pool of science and technology professionals we need to ensure that we have enough people emerging from the school system with the aptitude for and interest in these jobs.
Second, in order to have a healthy democracy we need a population that is able to participate in an informed way in discussions of science-related issues. New Zealand is not alone in these issues, with similar concerns being expressed in many other countries. As the review of evidence will show, it appears that although some New Zealand students are achieving very well in science there are also large numbers who are not. It also seems that many New Zealand students have formed negative attitudes towards science by the middle years of schooling, a trend that increases through the secondary school years.
Why are students not more positive about science? Is it something to do with school science education? Is it something to do with the way science is represented in the popular media? Or, is it something to do with science itself? This section of the paper addresses the first of these, why and how it is that school science education has contributed to the problem of engaging young people in science. To understand why this is we need to look at how and why science came to be a school subject and what its function should be today, ten years into the 21st century. 2. . Evolution of the curriculum Why is science part of the compulsory school curriculum? Why, for that matter, are other subjects such as English, mathematics, history, geography, other languages, the arts and physical education included in the school curriculum? The common-sense answer to this question could be that studying these subjects provides young people with knowledge that will be useful to them when they leave school; and, that these subjects give them basic literacy and numeracy skills as well as some understanding of themselves and the world around them.
Another answer might be that knowing about these things is part of becoming an educated person, part of the induction into the society in which we live and provides a framework that young people can use to think for themselves. What then does learning science contribute to these things? Much of the science taught in schools is not especially useful in everyday life, and many students do not achieve sufficient understanding of it to be able to contribute to scientific debates.
The reason why science, along with some subject areas, but not others, came to be included in school curPage A-11 Annex A: Inspired by Science ricula requires a brief look at the history of the development of the school curriculum, a story, which goes back thousands of years. The first important idea in this story is that the primary purpose of the school curriculum has been to develop the intellectual capacities of students and that the content of the school curriculum is chosen for its ability to do this.
A second necessary understanding is that the content, or subjects, included in the school curriculum are not the same as the sophisticated disciplinary knowledge (of science, literature, history and so on) from which they are derived. Rather, what appears in the curriculum is knowledge transformed or converted into subjects designed to educate young people for tacit or explicit social, political or economic ends. In other words, curriculum development is a process of selecting and translating knowledge into subjects which can be delivered to students to fulfil society’s educational purposes.
Those educational purposes are informed by prevailing ideas of the purpose of schooling and of the proper relationship between schooling and society. Subject matter knowledge is framed to meet educational goals rather than being taken directly from the discipline from which it is drawn. It is packaged and presented to students in ways that take account of learning theory as well as students’ ages, interests and abilities. So it is that the purpose of a school curriculum subject is different from its purpose in its original disciplinary context.
What this means is that school science or history or maths are different in kind from science, history or maths as practised by professionals, and not just because they have a lower level of complexity or sophistication. Science began to be part of the curriculum in some schools in the 19th century. Right from the start it was supposed to achieve a range of goals – the intellectual goal of developing students’ thinking and reasoning skills, the personal and practical goal of developing tudents’ understanding of how things work (including nature), and the futuristic goal of building students’ capacity for innovation and creativity. In the 19th century these goals had very different intellectual antecedents: the ‘thinking and reasoning’ goal, for example, came from Huxley and Spencer’s advocacy of science study as a way to build ‘mental discipline’, truth-seeking, and intellectual autonomy (in opposition to what they saw as the authoritarianism of the traditional emphasis on the Latin and Greek classics).
The ‘practical’ goal on the other hand originated in the work of the radical pedagogical theorists of the 19th century. J. F. Herbart, for example, advocated practical science lessons that would ‘fit pupils for life’ by giving them ‘direct experience of the natural world’, in ‘real-world, authentic’ (i. e. not abstract) contexts. These goals are the intellectual ‘spine’ of school science education: however, the way they are perceived, and the extent to which they are realised, is strongly influenced by the ever-changing socio-political context in which public education is developed and delivered.
Public education must contribute to national goals and priorities while also offering equal opportunity to all: however, it plays out in a context of deeply entrenched beliefs about what – and who – schools are for. In the New Zealand context, our conflicted relationship Page A-12 Annex A: Inspired by Science with egalitarianism has had some interesting consequences for our national school curriculum in general, and for science in particular. New Zealand’s public education system was set up in the late 19th century.
The 1877 Education Act made provision for a nation-wide, secular system of compulsory, free primary schooling for everyone (between the ages of 7 and 14). Before this, schooling had been provided by the six Provinces and/or the churches, but its quality was uneven. The 1877 Education Bill was argued for by the parliamentarians of the time on the grounds that universal public education would give everyone a fair chance to succeed (thereby improving social cohesion) on the one hand, and that it would improve economic productivity (by developing both the work ethic and the kinds of skills needed in the economy at that time) on the other.
The New Zealand system reproduced the English distinction between primary education (as providing the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic to all) and secondary education (as a preparation – and gatekeeper – for university and the professions). This produced the “bread for all, jam for the deserving” model (that we still have), as well as certain curriculum contradictions (that we also still have).
In the early twentieth century secondary education was not thought to be necessary for most people, and, because until 1914, state secondary schools charged fees, only children from the few families who could afford these fees went to secondary school. However, during the 1920s, uptake increased rapidly (from fewer than ten percent of the population in 1900 to about forty percent in the 1920s). This caused problems because the traditional academic curriculum offered at the secondary schools of the time was not designed to meet the needs of this new population of students.
The response to this was to institute a parallel system of technical high schools offering a more ‘practical’ and ‘relevant’ curriculum. These schools were not a success: they were resisted because they were perceived as preparing students for working class jobs, and so were considered to have lower status. They were eventually phased out. However, their presence allowed the earlierestablished schools to continue offering the traditional academic curriculum, scorning ‘practical knowledge’, and to position themselves, as one headmaster of the time put it, as “service[ing] the professional, official or business classes”.
The schools also added weight to the perception of abstract, academic science education as being higher in value than the more practical or ‘everyday-oriented’ forms of science education. The unpopularity of the technical high schools forced the government to try a different tack, one which led, in 1944, to the publication of a document known as the Thomas Report. This report set out a new direction for secondary education in New Zealand, one that was to remain in place for the next fifty years.
The School Certificate and University Entrance examinations were set up, and a new curriculum, designed to provide “a broad and balanced education for all”, was introduced. This new curriculum combined material from the traditional academic subjects with material drawn from the practical subjects to produce a “common core” curriculum for all students, whatever their ability, interests, background, or likely employment destination. ‘General science’ was invented at this time.
The aim of this new subject was to provide a basic course in practical science for everyone, Page A-13 Annex A: Inspired by Science while at the same time also laying the foundations for later specialisation and ongoing science study. However, this goal was never fully realised. Schools resisted the intent of the Thomas Report by ‘streaming’ students into different classes based on their ‘ability’ (as measured by IQ tests administered on entry to secondary school), and giving these different classes different versions of the core curriculum.
The effect of this was to preserve the academic/practical split, and, to some extent, the segregation of pupils by social class. As well as all this, school science curriculum development is underpinned by another important split, one that, while it may appear to be an esoteric concern of educationists, is important for considering the question of how to engage more young people in science.
For the last sixty years or so, the emphasis of the official school science curriculum has oscillated between two different approaches to teaching (with a periodicity of roughly twenty years): ‘knowledge-centred’ teaching approaches, in which the primary focus is to replicate the structures of the discipline, and ‘learner centred’ approaches, which are oriented around the learner’s needs.
However, whatever the official focus might have been, learner-centred approaches have predominated in primary classrooms, and knowledgecentred approaches have prevailed in secondary school classrooms, often for reasons that have little to do with students’ needs. In primary classroom, from the 1940s on, ‘discovery methods’, which involve encouraging students to explore their immediate world, have been the norm. Nature study was the focus, and children’s understanding and interest was to be built through a variety of experiences, rather than by learning facts.
In secondary schools the emphasis shifts to knowledge, and disciplining students into the discipline. Whenever curriculum reformers have attempted to make secondary school science more ‘inclusive’, ‘relevant’ or learner-centred, there has been strong resistance – from scientists and many science teachers, for whom science is a body of objective facts that cannot be diluted – or ‘dumbed down’ – by teaching approaches designed to meet the needs of learners.
This commitment to the ‘base discipline’ is much more a feature of science education than is the case in other curriculum areas. In addition, secondary school science teaching, despite the recent reforms of the national student assessment system, is still constrained by the requirements of high-stakes assessment at senior level, with the result that it in general continues to be oriented more towards teaching knowledge (content, facts, and principles) than towards meeting the individual learning needs of students (whatever these may be). Recent research in this area, in particular, research on students’ perceptions of their school science classes, points to this as one possible reason for secondary school science education’s limited success in engaging a diverse range of today’s young people in studying science for its own sake. Since the 1990s New Zealand has officially had a ‘seamless’ curriculum: that is, the national curriculum sets out what all students should learn from Years 1-13 with no differentiation (or ‘seams’) between primary and secondary.
Primary-age students are now required to develop an understanding of science content and science processes in the same discipline areas as secondary students – just at a lower level. The effect of this is to 1 For research evidence that this is still the case, see the notes to this section. Page A-14 Annex A: Inspired by Science import the knowledge-centeredness of secondary science into the primary school (rather than, as might be more productive in terms of engaging students, importing the learnercenteredness of the primary school into the secondary school).
This new emphasis is also likely to be challenging for the many primary teachers who have very little background in science. Coupled with the recent increased emphasis on developing numeracy and literacy in the early years (and the introduction of national standards for assessing children’s progress in these), the result is likely to be that science will have a very low profile in today’s primary schools. The next section moves away from the New Zealand context to look in more detail at the range of very different purposes school science programmes are asked to achieve. . 2. Purposes of science education Science education academics identify four broad purposes for school science education. These are: 1. Preparing students for a career in science (pre-professional training). 2. Equipping students with practical knowledge of how things work (utilitarian purpose). 3. Building students’ science literacy to enable informed participation in science-related debates and issues (democratic/citizenship purpose). 4.
Developing students’ skills in scientific thinking and their knowledge of science as part of their intellectual enculturation (cultural/intellectual purpose). 2. 2. 1. Pre-professional training Science education to introduce students to and equip them for what are sometimes called ‘STEM’ careers – jobs in science, technology, engineering and maths – has been an important, although not always explicit, purpose behind science curricula and science teaching.
The rationale is that studying science will increase students’ awareness of STEM careers and stimulate their interest in them, and that the science knowledge they gain will give them a necessary foundation for the advanced study needed to qualify for such careers. From this perspective, science education at school is, in effect, a pre-professional course of study where associated assessments function as a gate-keeper reserving entry to the STEM professions for the most successful students.
Widespread concern in New Zealand and other western countries that we are not producing enough scientists for our current and future needs has kept this purpose at the forefront of science education. A science education designed to prepare students for STEM careers emphasises the basic components of accepted scientific knowledge. The curriculum is effectively a catalogue of important – often highly abstract – scientific ideas or processes (forces and energy for example).
These ideas are often learned and assessed in isolation from contexts which could increase their relevance or their coherence as explanatory stories. In an effort to ensure the fundamentals are clear, science education for intending scientists breaks scientific knowledge into smaller and smaller parts and risks losing sight of the ‘big ideas’ and explanations of science. Beyond 2000: Science education for the future, a seminal report in the development of science education in the UK, says this: Page A-15 Annex A: Inspired by Science
To borrow an architectural metaphor, it is impossible to see the whole building if we focus too closely on the bricks. Yet, without a change of focus, it is impossible to see whether you are looking at St Paul’s Cathedral or a pile of bricks, or to appreciate what it is that makes St Paul’s one of the world’s great churches. In the same way, an over concentration on the detailed content of science may prevent students appreciating why Dalton’s ideas about atoms, or Darwin’s ideas about natural selection, are among the most powerful and significant pieces of knowledge we possess.
Consequently, it is perhaps unsurprising that many pupils emerge from their formal science education with the feeling that the knowledge they acquired had as much value as a pile of bricks and that the task of constructing any edifice of note was simply too daunting – the preserve of the boffins of the scientific elite. (Millar & Osborne [eds] 1998: p5) Another problem is that a strong focus on science subjects at school is likely to preclude the study of other knowledge areas needed to work effectively as a scientist, and the science knowledge required in most scientific careers is highly specialised and context specific.
Furthermore, when preparing students for STEM careers is a central purpose of school science education, and responsible for determining its approach and curriculum, there is a problem in that only a minority of students actually go on to such careers, leaving open the question of school science’s value to the rest. Many young people finish their science education at school with a sense that science is hard, irrelevant to everyday life, and best left to the high achievers.
They are also likely to see science as a body of recognised knowledge that has no new questions – and no place for them. Thus organising school science as a preparation for science careers is flawed in a number of ways. It does not provide a balanced, or even particularly effective, education for the minority who do go on to pursue STEM careers; it results in the majority of students seeing themselves as science failures, and science itself as the boring, esoteric preoccupation of a few; and, it seems to engage only a few in wanting to know more science simply for its own sake. . 2. 2. The utilitarian purpose Providing people with practical knowledge of how things work – the natural world, everyday devices and machines, and their own bodies – has long been a key purpose of school science education. Teaching for this purpose involves a focus on basic science concepts and principles as they apply in the everyday world of things we need and care about, for example how our bodies and those of other animals work, what electricity is and how to use it safely.
Science taught for this purpose is likely to emphasise hands-on, practical activities and skills such as wiring a three-pin plug, keeping a record of everything students eat for a week, or looking after laboratory animals and plants. This approach is designed not to prepare people for science-related careers but to give them everyday life skills and information that will allow them to make better choices. Page A-16 Annex A: Inspired by Science
While well-intentioned, it also has a number of flaws. Firstly, research doesn’t support the idea that knowledge alone about such things as the effects of cigarettes, alcohol, high speed collisions, good nutrition or physical exercise produces changes in behaviour, and secondly, most everyday appliances and other machines (including cars) are now constructed using electronic control technology that makes them difficult if not impossible for amateurs to fix. 2. 2. 3.
The democratic/citizenship purpose Questions about the causes and effects of climate change, the potential and ethics of genetic modification, and the safety and sustainability of sources of energy become more pressing all the time as the long-term future of life on earth is no longer taken for granted. People need to be aware of the issues, have some ability to critically evaluate information and be equipped to participate in debates and influence policy on these and other important matters.
Some describe this as essentially a ‘democratic’ argument in that we are in a time where the increasing complexity of technology puts effective control of these critical issues into the hands of a smaller and smaller group of experts. A scientifically literate population is essential to sustain a healthy democracy, for only if the non-expert population has at least some understanding of the underlying science can the issues be aired in public and discussed in relation to wider, non-scientific concerns.
Teaching for scientific literacy would focus on the nature of scientific knowledge including what makes science ‘scientific’, how science knowledge develops and how scientists think and work. Critical and ethical thinking, skills in constructing scientific argument and problem-solving would all be emphasised, and because students would do this through indepth exploration of particular issues, they would also learn some key science concepts.
There have been a number of attempts over recent decades to introduce aspects of this approach but as yet there has not been widespread uptake by teachers, possibly because it requires them to have a different core knowledge base and new skills. 2. 2. 4. The cultural/intellectual purpose This purpose of science education goes back to Plato’s idea that education should involve being exposed to the best and greatest forms of knowledge one’s culture has produced. This, Plato thought, allows the developing mind to be shaped by – or imprinted with – the cognitive processes of the great thinkers who produced that knowledge.
Science was included in the traditional ‘liberal’ curriculum for its capacity to develop rationality; because it is derived from logical reasoning, the argument goes, it should develop logical reasoning in its students. While scientific thinking is the goal, teaching for this purpose does not generally focus explicitly on developing thinking skills. Students are supposed to pick these up implicitly through exposure to the structures of scientific knowledge, and by emulating the thinking modelled by their teachers who, it is assumed, think like working scientists.
However, Page A-17 Annex A: Inspired by Science most students do not acquire these skills in this way, although some do with support from out-of-school contexts. So, this purpose, while it is a foundation of the traditional academic curriculum, is rarely achieved in schools. These four purposes are all very different. Each has different origins, and each requires a different kind of learning programme if it is to be met. However, school science curricula, now and in the past, have, at least in theory, been required to serve all of these purposes.
This has resulted in programmes with rather muddled mixtures of purposes, and limited success in achieving them. 2. 2. 5. Current purposes New Zealand’s current official national curriculum document arguably continues this trend. This document “sets the direction for student learning” in all English medium state schools (including integrated schools). It is a framework for teaching rather than a detailed plan. The relative freedom it gives schools to plan their own curriculum means that it is very important for schools to be clear about what they are trying to achieve in their programmes.
The ‘vision’ of The New Zealand Curriculum is to produce “young people who will be confident, connected, actively involved, life long learners. ” (p. 7). The document sets out a set of ‘principles’ that are intended to underpin all school decision-making, and a set of ‘values’ that are to be encouraged, modelled and explored. It also defines five ‘key competencies’ considered essential for effective participation in society, and eight ‘learning areas’ (subjects), of which science is one. Each ‘learning area’ of the curriculum is divided into levels.
One ‘level’ typically covers about two years of learning. The science ‘learning area’ is described as follows: In science students explore how both the natural physical world and science itself work so that they can participate as critical, informed, and responsible citizens in a society in which science plays a significant role. (p. 17, italics added). This ‘learning area’ is organized into five ‘strands’:- Living World (biology), Planet Earth and Beyond (astronomy and geology), Material World (chemistry), Physical World (physics) and Nature of Science.
This last strand is the core strand and is compulsory for all students up to Year 10 (about age 14). The intention is that through this strand students learn what science is and how it works. The other strands are intended to serve as contexts for learning this. As they move through the ten years of the core curriculum from Year 1 (age five) to Year 10 (about age fifteen), students should experience science programmes that include learning in all four of the other strands.
Within this overall framework schools have the flexibility to design curricula that meet the needs of their particular communities. They could, for example, decide to organize their learning programmes around themes or projects, rather than around traditional subject areas. Page A-18 Annex A: Inspired by Science Thus, while schools have considerable freedom as to how they present it, the curriculum document’s description of the science ‘learning area’ clearly signals that school science programmes should be meeting all four of the purposes outlined in this section. . 3. In summary For the last century and a half or so since we have had mass education it has been generally agreed that science should be part of the core curriculum of schools. However, there has been less agreement on what aspects of science should be taught, how they should be taught, and why they should be taught. The view of school science’s purpose as being primarily to prepare – and select – students for university-level science study and sciencerelated careers has predominated – for reasons that are not necessarily education-related.
This has resulted in curricula that foreground the basic concepts of biology, chemistry and physics, taught largely through didactic approaches that assume learners as ‘empty vessels’ that are able to be filled up with knowledge. There have been a great many attempts to reform the curriculum, particularly over the last 20 or 30 years. These attempts have mainly focused on making the curriculum more ‘learner-centred’ – that is, more appealing to – or ‘inclusive’ of – students from a wider range of backgrounds; more ‘relevant’ to students’ existing experiences, interests and background knowledge; more connected to authentic, ‘real world’ ontexts; and/or more cognisant of what we know about how people actually learn new things. However, while this work (sometimes) resulted in the appearance of new words in official curriculum documents, it has had very little effect on the way science is taught in schools. Secondary school science programmes largely continue to teach conceptual knowledge in discrete disciplines, while in primary schools science has a low profile, appearing mainly as a topic or context for inquiry learning. The traditional model persists for a number of reasons.
Most secondary science teachers support it because their early enculturation through school and undergraduate study has fostered a commitment to and identification with this type of knowledge, and because their existing skills and professional identities are oriented towards the traditional curriculum. It is also maintained by existing resources such as textbooks and laboratories; by school structures such as timetable arrangements and assessment traditions; by many academic scientists and science education academics; and, by the traditional high status conferred on highly differentiated, insulated school subjects like science.
The most recent official national curriculum provides a number of signals for change and gives schools considerable freedom to make decisions about how it is best implemented in their community: however, these signals are seldom, as yet, being taken up. What all this tells us is that understanding what good science education looks like – that is, science education that is educative, that represents science accurately, and that is engaging for students – is very challenging, and that, despite much effort, it continues to be very challenging. Page A-19 Annex A: Inspired by Science
The next section looks at the evidence we have, in New Zealand and international studies, of how well we are engaging young people in science, and how well they are achieving in it. 2. 4. Notes to Section 2 A brief history of science education Page A-11 The study reported in Hipkins, R. , Roberts, J. , Bolstad, R. and Ferral, H. (2006). Staying in science 2: Transition to tertiary study from the perspectives of New Zealand Year 13 science students. Research carried out for the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology. Wellington: NZCER http://www. educationcounts. govt. z/publications/series/2303 investigated New Zealanders’ understanding of and interest in science, and their reasons for not choosing not to study science. However, New Zealand is not alone on this issue. Other studies of students’ experiences of school science and their subsequent study choices have come to similar conclusions. See for example, in Australia: Tytler, R. (2007). Re-imagining science education – engaging students in science for Australia’s future. Camberwell Vic: Australian Council for Educational Research; Lyons, T. (2005). Different countries, same science classes: Students’ experiences of school science in their own words.
International Journal of Science Education 28(6), 591694; Lyons, T. (2006). The puzzle of falling enrolments in physics and chemistry courses: Putting some pieces together. Research in Science Education 36(3), 285-311; Goodrum, D. , Hacking, M. , & Rennie. L. (2001). Research report: The status and quality of teaching and learning of science in Australian schools. Canberra: Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs www. detya. gov. au/schools/publications/index. htm; Gough, A. , Marshall, A. , Matthews, R. , Milne G. , Tytler, R. , White, G. (1998). Science baseline survey research report.
Melbourne: Deakin University; in the UK: Osborne, J. , Driver, R. & Simon, S. (1986). Attitudes to science: A review of research and proposals for studies to inform policy relating to uptake of science. London: Kings College London; and in Sweden: Lindahl, B. (2003). Pupils’ responses to school science and technology – a longitudinal study of pathways to upper secondary school www. mna. hkr. se/~ll/summary. pdf. Evolution of the curriculum Page A-11 A description of the three 19th century goals for school science, and the very different approaches advocated by Huxley, Spencer and Herbart can be found in DeBoer, G. 1991) A History of Ideas in Science Education: Implications for Practice. New York: Teachers College Press. Accounts of how and why New Zealand’s public education system was set up in the way it was can be found in: McKenzie, D. , Lee. H. and Lee, G. (1986) Scholars or dollars? Selected historical case studies of opportunity costs in New Zealand education. Palmerston North: Dunmore Press; Shuker, R. (1987). The one best system? A revisionist history of state schooling in New Zealand. Palmerston North: Dunmore Press; Harker, R. (1990) Schooling Page A-20 Annex A: Inspired by Science and cultural reproduction.
In J. Codd, R. Harker & R. Nash (eds. ). Political issues in New Zealand education (2nd ed. , pp. 25-42). Palmerston North: Dunmore Press; Openshaw, R. Lee, G. and Lee, H. (1993) Challenging the myths: Rethinking New Zealand’s educational history. Palmerston North: Dunmore Press; Openshaw, R. (1995) Unresolved struggle: Consensus and conflict in New Zealand state post-primary education. Palmerston North: Dunmore Press. The “bread for all jam for the deserving” reference is taken from Renwick, W. (1986) Moving targets: Six essays on educational policy. Wellington: New Zealand Council for Educational Research (p. 6). Page A-13 For an account of the issues surrounding the development of technical high schools, see: McKenzie, D. (1992). The technical curriculum: Second class knowledge? In G. McCulloch (ed. ) The school curriculum in New Zealand history: History, theory, policy and practice (pp. 29-39). Palmerston North: Dunmore Press. The ‘Thomas report’ – officially Department of Education (1944). The post-primary school curriculum: Report of the committee appointed by the Minister of Education in November 1942. Wellington: Author – took its more widely used name from the name of the committee’s convenor.
A detailed description of how and why official school science curricula have oscillated between learner-centered and knowledge-centered approaches can be found in DeBoer, G. (1991) A History of Ideas in Science Education: Implications for Practice. New York: Teachers College Press. Some educational theorists argue that students’ intellectual capacities are best developed by knowledge-centered approaches that start with the structures of the discipline, while others argue for starting with the needs of the learner. The case for knowledge-centered approaches is made in Bruner, J. (1966). Toward a Theory of Instruction.
Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press; and Bruner, J. (1996). The Process of Education. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press [original work published in 1960] and in Shulman, L. (1987). Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform. Harvard Educational Review, 57(1), 1-22. the argument for learner-centered approaches is made in Schwab, J. (1962). The concept of a discipline. Educational Record, 43, 197-205; Schwab, J. (1973). The practical: translation into curriculum. School Review, 79, 493-542; Schwab, J. (1978). Education and the structure of the disciplines. In: I. Westbury & N. Wilkof (Eds. Science, curriculum and liberal education (pp. 229-272). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. See also Dewey, J. (1990). The School and Society & The Child and the Curriculum. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. [Original work published in 1902] or, for a more recent review, see Deng, Z. (2007). Transforming the subject matter: examining the roots of pedagogical content knowledge. Curriculum Inquiry 37(3), 279-295. The development of the New Zealand primary science curriculum since the 1940s is described in Fletcher, W. (2010). Spreaders of a vision: natural science education in New Page A-21 Annex A: Inspired by Science
Zealand schools. Wellington: School Science Advisers Association; and Ewing, J. (1970). Development of the New Zealand primary school curriculum 1877-1970. Wellington: New Zealand Council for Educational Research. For example, Matthews, M. (1995). Challenging NZ Science Education. Palmerston North: Dunmore Press, argues strongly against the science curriculum reforms of the 1990s (the term “dumbing down” is used in this book). For research evidence on the extent to which secondary science teaching (in New Zealand and overseas) is knowledge- (rather than learner-) centred, see the following research reports and syntheses.
Goodrum, D. , Hackling, M. , & Rennie, L. (2001). The status and quality of teaching and learning of science in Australian schools: A research report. Canberra: Department of Education, Training and Youth affairs; and Millar, R. , & Osborne, J. F. (Eds. ) (1998) Beyond 2000: Science Education for the Future. London: King’s College London explicitly identify didactic teaching and knowledge-centred approaches to science teaching as key issues to be addressed. More recent New Zealand specific evidence can be found in the most recent report from the 2009 NZCER National Survey of Secondary Schools: Hipkins, R. in press) Giving effect to the New Zealand Curriculum in Secondary Schools, Wellington, New Zealand Council for Educational Research. Research investigating students’ perceptions of their science classes consistently shows that, from their point of view, school science is more content-driven than other subjects, that it is not especially relevant to the rest of their lives, and it provides few opportunities for them to be actively involved in their own learning. Some recent New Zealand examples of this type of research are: Caygill, R. , & Sok, S. (2008) PISA 2006 School context of science achievement.
How ready are our 15-year-olds for tomorrow’s world? Wellington: Ministry of Education; and Wylie, C. , Hipkins, R. , & Hodgen, E. (2008). On the Edge of Adulthood: Young people’s school and out-of-school experiences at 16. Wellington: New Zealand Council for Educational Research. Some overseas (UK, Australia, and Sweden) examples of research of this type are as follows: Osborne, J. and Collins, S. (2001). Pupils’ views of the role and value of the science curriculum: a focus-group study. International Journal of Science Education, 23(5), 441-467; Lyons, T. (2005).
Different countries, same science classes: Students’ experiences of school science in their own words. International Journal of Science Education, 28(6), 591-614; and Lindahl, B. (2003). Pupil’s responses to school science and technology? A longitudinal study of pathways to higher secondary school. See: http:// na-serv. did. gu. se/avhand/lindahl. pdf. Purposes of science education Pages A-15 to A-20 The four purpose framework used here is taken from Osborne, J. and Hennessy, S. (2003). Literature review in science education and the role of ICT: Promise, problems and future directions.
Futurelab Series, Report 6. http://www. futurelab. org. uk/resources/publicationsreports-articles/literature-reviews/Literature-Review380. Page A-22 Annex A: Inspired by Science Pre-professional training Page A-15 The long quote on page A-16 comes from Millar & Osborne (eds. ) (1998) op. cit. Coles, M. (1998). The nature of scientific work: a study of how science is used in work settings and the implications for education and training programmes. London. Institute of Education argues that knowledge of more than just science is required for successful scientific work. Osborne & Collins (2001) op. cit. iscusses students’ negative perceptions of science programmes that are oriented towards preparation for STEM careers. The utilitarian purpose Page A-16 The source of the statement that the link between knowledge-based interventions and behaviour changes isn’t supported by research is the review reported in Jepson. R. , Harris, F. , MacGillivray, S. , Kearney, N. and Rowa-Dewar, N. (2006). A review of the effectiveness of interventions, approaches and models at individual, community and population level that are aimed at changing health outcomes through changing knowledge attitudes and behaviour.
Cancer Care Research Centre, University of Stirling The democratic/citizenship purpose Page A-17 Osborne, J. and Hennessy, S. (2003). Literature review in science education and the role of ICT: Promise, problems and future directions. Futurelab Series, Report 6. www. futurelab. org. uk/resources/publications-reports-articles/literature-reviews/Literature-Review380 contains a rationale for the democratic/citizenship purpose of science education. Discussions of the concept of scientific literacy can be found in Bybee, R. (1997). Towards an understanding of scientific literacy. In W. Graib & C. Bolte (eds. ) Scientific literacy.
Keil Germany: IPN; (pp. 37-68); Hurd, P. (1998). Scientific literacy: new minds for a changing world. Science Education 82(3), 407-416; Ryder, J. (2001). Identifying science understanding for functional scientific literacy. Studies in Science Education 36; Osborne, J. (2002) Science without literacy – a ship without a sail? Cambridge Journal of Education, 32(2), 203-218; Norris, S. & Philips, L. (2003). How literacy in its fundamental sense is central to scientific literacy. Science Education 87(2), 224-240; Trefil, J. & O’Brien-Trefil, W. (2009). The science student. Educational Leadership, September 2009, 28-33. Ryder (2001) op. it. ; Trefil & O’Brien-Trefil (2009) op. cit. ; Osborne, J. , Erduran, S. & Simon, S. (2004) Enhancing the qualiy of argumentation in school science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 41(10, 994-1020; and Osborne, J. , Ratcliffe, M. , Collins, S. , Millar, R. and Duschl, R. (2003). What ‘ideas about science’ should be taught in school science? A Delphi study of the ‘expert community’. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 40(7), 692-720 make the case for the importance of scientific reasoning and argumentation, and critical and ethical thinking in science education. Page A-23 Annex A: Inspired by Science
Tytler, R. (2007). Re-imagining science education: Engaging students in science for Australia’s future. Camberwell: Australian Council for Educational Research; McGee, C. , Jones, A. , Cowie, B. , Hill, M. , Miller, T. , Harlow, A. & MacKenzie, K. (2003). Curriculum Stocktake: National School Sampling Study: Teachers’ experiences in curriculum implementation: Science. Wellington: Ministry of Education; and Ryder (2001) op. cit. all point out that, while there have been many attempts to introduce such approaches, uptake has been low, probably because teachers lack the necessary knowledge base and/or skills.
The cultural/intellectual purpose Plato’s ideas about education were set out in The Republic and The Laws. For the standard account of his ideas and the ‘liberal ideal’ of education that developed from them, see Hirst, P. (1972). Liberal education and the nature of knowledge. In R. Dearden, P. Hirst & R. Peters (Eds). Education and reason (pp. 1-24). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. For an account of the pedagogical limitations of this model, see: Egan, K. (1997). The educated mind: How cognitive tools shape our understanding. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
For evidence of New Zealand teachers resistance to it, see: Baker, R. & Jones, A. (2005). TIMSS and PISA in science education. International Journal of Science Education, 27(2), 145-157. Current purposes Page A-18 New Zealand’s official national curriculum document for English-medium state schools is: Ministry of Education (2007). The New Zealand Curriculum. Wellington: Author. A parallel document, entitled Te Marautanga o Aotearoa, serves the same purpose for Maori-medium schools. An English translation of this document can be retrieved from http://nzcurriculum. tki. org. z/Curriculum-documents/Te-Marautanga-o-Aotearoa. This document is based on Maori philosophies and is not a translation of The New Zealand Curriculum. Most students work at Curriculum Level 1 during the first couple of years at school, Level 2 during Years 3 and 4, Level 3 during Years 5 and 6 and so on. Each level has a number of learning objectives. The use of the word, “level” is confusing though, because as well as referring to curriculum levels, it is also used in relation to NCEA (the National Certificate of Educational Achievement). Here its meaning is different.
NCEA Level 1 refers to the qualification the majority of students attempt at Year 11 (as 15 year olds) while the curriculum level 1 refers to the objectives the majority of students are working on at Year 1 and Year 2 (as 5 or 6 year olds). In New Zealand when students enter school as 5 year olds they are classified as either Year 1 or Year 0 depending on when their birthday is. They then progress through the Year levels. By age 10 ? or 11 students are in Year 7 (previously known as Form 1) and they begin high school at Year 9 (previously known as Form 3). Page A-24 Annex A: Inspired by Science
In summary Page A-19 Some examples of the more ‘learner-centred’ attempts at reform were the ‘science for all’ and the ‘science, technology and society’ approaches of the 1970 and 1980s, and the ‘issues-based science’, science literacy and inquiry-oriented approaches of the 1980s and 1990s. The key ideas behind the ‘science for all’ movement are described in Fensham, P. (1986). Science for all. Educational Leadership, December 1986, 18-23. See also Stenhouse, D. (1985). Active philosophy in science and education. London: Allen & Unwin. See Solomon, J. & Aikenhead, G. (eds. ) (1994). STS education: International perspectives on reform.
New York: Teachers College Press for the main ideas of the ‘science, technology and society’ reform movement. For evidence and discussion of the persistence of the traditional model see: Fawns, R. (1985). Negotiating an Australian General Science: The professional dilemma 1939-45. Research in Science Education 15, 166-175; Gaskell, P. & Rowell, P. (1993). Teachers and curriculum policy: Contrasting perspectives of a subject specialist and generalist teachers’ organisation. Historical Studies in Education 5(1), 67-86; Goodrun et al (2000) op. cit; Fensham, P. (1993). Academic influences on school science curricula.
Journal of Curriculum Studies 25(1), 53-64; Hart, C. (2001). Examining relations of power in a process of curriculum change: the case of VCE physics. Research in Science Education 31(4), 525-54; McGee, C. , Jones. A. , Cowie, B. , Hill, M. , Harlow, A. , & McKenzie, K. (2003). Curriculum stocktake national school sampling study: teachers’ experiences in curriculum implementation (Science). Wellington: Ministry of Education. 3. Engagement and achievement in science Reviewing how well our students are engaged with and achieving in science now is not as straight forward as it might seem.
In order to do this it is necessary to be clear about what is meant by engagement and achievement and to consider how well current assessment tools measure what is valued. This section considers these questions before looking at the assessment data. 3. 1. What is engagement? It is not long in any discussion of teaching and learning before someone mentions ‘student engagement’, heads nod in agreement that engagement is a critical precondition for students’ learning and achievement and the conversation turns to how to increase this precious prerequisite.
Less often do we deconstruct the concept of engagement in search of a better understanding of what it looks like and how it works. So what does this term actually mean? One meaning can be seen on the Ministry of Education’s website, where there is a page called ‘student engagement’. This page has links to reports and other documents that: Page A-25 Annex A: Inspired by Science provide information on how New Zealand students are engaged in their learning using the key indicators of stand-downs, suspensions, expulsions, exclusions and early leaving exemptions analysis’.
Here ‘engagement’ means that the student is physically present in the classroom, or at least at school. At the other end of the spectrum a typical researcher definition is as follows: Student engagement occurs when students make a psychological investment in learning. They try hard to learn what school offers. They take pride not simply in earning the formal indicators of success (grades), but in understanding the material and incorporating or internalizing it in their lives (Newman, 1992: p. 2-3). Here student engagement is understood as a psychological investment by the student in meaningful learning.
One widely cited comprehensive review of research on student engagement identifies three ‘dimensions’ used in research: behavioural engagement, emotional engagement and cognitive engagement – any of which can be present on its own or in conjunction with others. These are: • • Behavioural engagement. Students who are behaviourally engaged are involved and participating. They are likely to be on task and following instructions. Emotional engagement. Evident interest and enjoyment are the signs of emotional engagement. Students find the learning sufficiently worthwhile or challenging to give it their attention and effort.
Cognitive engagement. A student who can describe what they have learned or complete an assessment task accurately demonstrates a surface level of cognitive engagement. A deeper level is likely to manifest as self-directed further investigation or perhaps setting and solving related problems and challenges. • But what does good engagement in science look like? Does it mean that students keep studying science: participating, and progressing through levels of achievement, or is it real intellectual curiosity about the questions science asks and can sometimes answer?
Is it an interest in the natural environment, new technologies, museums or science-related media? Is it an aspiration to develop a career in science, or is it a belief in the value of science to the individual and to society? 3. 2. What is achievement? Achievement, just like engagement, can be defined in a variety of ways. However, before it is possible to define either, we need to be clear about the purpose of science education what it is students should learn, and why? Is it more important for students to explore, or to explain? Should science be limited to matters of fact or should it also address matters of concern?
Should science teaching focus on the nature of science, or should it focus on scientific knowledge and principles? Page A-26 Annex A: Inspired by Science If the purpose of science education is primarily to produce future scientists, it could be argued that we are succeeding as a nation if just our top students are achieving well, but if science education is primarily about educating for citizenship then to succeed as a nation we would need to see the vast majority of our students achieving well in science, not just an elite group.
Are the knowledge and skills necessary to be able to engage as an informed citizen in debates about environmental, ecological and bio-ethical challenges facing the world the same as the knowledge and skills needed by our future scientists? Regardless of what we decide is important for students to learn, and for whom it is important, it is questionable whether we can consider that we are succeeding as a nation if our students can ‘do the science’ but they don’t want to. Thus engagement and achievement are closely linked. . 3. Assessment tools When we consider the evidence about students’ engagement and achievement in science we also need to consider the nature of the assessment tools that generated the data. It is possible that the assessment tools on which we currently rely may not measure the knowledge and skills needed for the future; tools which assess recall of scientific content may not accurately predict students’ suitability for a career in science or indeed their ability to participate as active citizens in today’s society.
Assessments that provide a measure of mastery of scientific content may provide little information about how well a student can apply that knowledge in a range of situations. The nature of the assessment tools available is important for other reasons too. In any situation where students’ good performance in assessments becomes their ticket to future opportunities, or where teachers are judged by their students’ results on tests, there is a risk that what the assessment tools measure will become the ‘taught curriculum’, regardless of the intended curriculum.
Curriculum purpose, pedagogy, assessment practice, and the resources available to teachers need to be aligned if curriculum change is really to make a difference. Some recently designed assessment tools, for example PISA and NZCER’s Science: Thinking with Evidence test, do attempt to assess how well students can use their knowledge and skills. However, other assessment tools still have a more traditional focus and so when results are being analysed questions need to be asked about exactly what is being measured in the various tests.
With these caveats in mind, this section reviews the evidence we have on how well New Zealand students are achieving in science; how effectively the current system is developing students’ interest in science; and, finally, whether sufficient opportunities exist to learn science. It draws mainly on data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and New Zealand’s National Education Monitoring Project (NEMP). 3. 4. Achievement In brief, many New Zealand students are achieving well in science, but there are large numbers who are not.
New Zealand students have relative strengths in applying knowledge Page A-27 Annex A: Inspired by Science rather than in knowing scientific content, and there is a stronger relationship between socio-economic background and achievement in New Zealand than there is in many other countries. The mean score of New Zealand’s 15 year olds in PISA 2006 was well above the OECD mean, and New Zealand had a higher proportion of top performers than any other country except Finland. Furthermore, these top performers were spread across a wide range of schools. In PISA, New Zealand students generally performed very well on identifying scientific issues and using scientific evidence but were less strong on explaining phenomena scientifically. 3 New Zealand students scored well in biology and earth science but were relatively weak in chemistry and physics. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), commissioned by the OECD assesses the ability of students at age 15 in the principal industrialised countries to use their knowledge and skills in reading, mathematics and science to meet real life challenges.
The 2006 PISA survey of science completed the first cycle of assessment in the major subject areas – reading (2000), mathematics (2003) and science. PISA is unusual in that, unlike many traditional assessments of student performance in science, it has a focus on whether young adults have the ability to use their knowledge and skills to meet real life challenges rather than whether they have mastered a specific school curriculum. This approach was taken to reflect the nature of competencies valued in modern society. (OECD 2007)
However, evidence from PISA also tells us that although our top students do very well, New Zealand also has a large group of students who do poorly at science; in fact we have one of the greatest spreads of achievement of all the participating nations. 4 Maori and Pasifika students are over-represented among these low achieving students with Maori also more likely to be among those who discontinue their science education early. TIMSS assesses students’ performance midway through their primary education and early in their secondary schooling.
The most recent results show that New Zealand Year 5 students’ achievement in science which had improved from 1994/95 to 1998/99 and again to 2002/03, dropped back in 2006/07 to levels similar to those of 1994. In 2006/07, New Zealand Year 5 students had significantly lower science achievement on average than those in England, the United States and Australia. On this evidence we would have to say that we were not, at that point, laying a strong knowledge foundation for a broad range of our student population.
TIMSS data show that 13% of New Zealand Year 5 students who participated in the 2006 data collection did not reach the low benchmark of ‘some elementary knowledge of life science and physical science’. Although most countries participating in TIMSS had some students in this group, countries with similar proportions of students reaching the advanced benchmark generally had See Appendix 1: achievement data point 1 for more detail. See Appendix 1: achievement data point 2 for more detail. See Appendix 1: achievement data point 2 for more detail. 2 3 Page A-28 Annex A: Inspired by Science While both PISA and TIMSS allow us to compare New Zealand students’ performance with that of students in other countries, NEMP tracks performance as students move through primary school. NEMP’s analysis of students’ performance in science in 2007 shows clear improvement from Year 4 to Year 8 in most aspects of science performance assessed, with particularly large gains in providing satisfactory explanations of scientific phenomena.
There was little change in science performance overall for either Year 4 or Year 8 students during the 12 years from 1995 to 2007, although the 2007 report does raise a concern that some decline has been detected in Year 4 students’ mastery of the physical science strands over the years of the survey. As with TIMSS, we see some evidence of a recent decline in content acquisition. Ministry of Education data show that while overall participation (as a percentage) of New Zealand students in secondary school science has increased slightly since the mid 1990s, average achievement in Year 11 science has gone down slightly in the same time.
In New Zealand there is a strong relationship between socio-economic background and achievement which PISA found to be stronger than in most OECD countries. TIMSS too found a clear relationship between socio-economic background and achievement, while NEMP found statistically significant differences in performance in students from low, medium and high decile schools on many tasks. Neither PISA nor TIMSS found any significant difference in overall science achievement between boys and girls in New Zealand although boys were slightly more likely than girls to 5
Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) is a research study of student achievement in mathematics and science around the world. It measures and interprets differences in approaches to teaching mathematics and science in order to help improve the teaching and learning of these subjects worldwide. TIMSS is designed to link with the current school curriculum of each country and has assessed achievement in mathematics and science at middle primary (Year 5) and lower secondary (Year 9) levels every four years since 1994.
TIMSS also collects background information on students, and classroom and school contexts through questionnaires. New Zealand’s Year 5 and Year 9 students have participated in TIMSS since its inception, with the exception of Year 9 students in 2006/07. TIMSS assessment are organised around two dimensions, a content or subject matter dimension and a cognitive dimension which assesses thinking processes. (Caygill 2008) fewer students unable to reach the low benchmark than New Zealand.
Analysis of TIMSS results shows that New Zealand students perform better on questions that involve demonstrating knowledge than on questions that assess reasoning or applying knowledge. 5 In the international data sets for all countries, the results for the ‘Knowing’ and ‘Applying’ cognitive scores were inadvertently mislabelled so all data labelled ‘Knowing’ actually pertained to ‘Applying’ and vice versa. The data in this report draws on the corrected data. Page A-29 Annex A: Inspired by Science e at the top or bottom of the achievement distribution. Other factors identified by these studies as being linked with achievement in science are ethnicity, immigration status and language spoken in the home. While there were high and low performers in all ethnic groups, the average score of Pakeha and Asian students was higher than that of Maori and Pasifika students. TIMSS found that students born in New Zealand had higher science achievement on average than those who were not.
PISA, however, found students born overseas with parents also born out of New Zealand (first generation immigrants) performed almost as well as students with a New Zealand born parent, but ‘second generation immigrants’, New Zealand born students of parents born overseas, performed significantly less well overall. PISA also found students who changed school frequently were less likely to perform well. New Zealand’s National Education Monitoring Project (NEMP) has been conducting annual assessments of student achievement, values and attitudes at Year 4 (aged 8-9) and Year 8 (aged 12-13) since 1995.
Based in the Education Assessment Research Unit at the University of Otago, NEMP has a four year cycle of assessments across the curriculum with student achievement in science being assessed in 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2007. Students are assessed on a variety of tasks and their responses are recorded orally, by demonstration or in writing. 3. 5. Engagement Producing students who can use skills and knowledge in a range of situations is in itself not sufficient either for ensuring a future workforce or for preparing citizens who can understand and debate socio-scientific issues.
For both of these, students need not only have knowledge of and about science but to be interested in science and able to see its relevance to their world. 3. 5. 1. Interest in science Positive attitudes are important. At age 15, the point at which students in New Zealand begin to exercise more choice in the subjects they study, PISA results show that the proportion of students reporting high or medium interest in science topics is similar to that of other OECD countries. Although New Zealand’s students were generally positive about science they were less likely than their OECD counterparts to believe they are good at science.
They agreed that science helps us understand the world and is of value to society but were less convinced that science was important to them personally; and, while they were concerned about environmental issues they were not very optimistic about the possibility of improvement. 6 A measure of students’ interest in science is the extent to which they choose to participate in science-related activities in their leisure time. PISA 2006 shows that fewer New Zealand students regularly engaged in any leisure time science-related activities than those in most 6
See Appendix 1: achievement data point 3 for more detail. Page A-30 Annex A: Inspired by Science other countries. Students who did engage in science-related activities in their own time were more likely to have high science literacy scores than those who did not. This was also true for other countries. Boys, Asian students and students from higher socio-economic backgrounds were more likely to engage in science related leisure activities than others. PISA also found that in New Zealand boys were more likely than girls to report that they enjoyed science.
Boys were also more likely to have higher self-belief in their ability in science and to place a high value on science both to society and to them personally. TIMSS, however found at Year 5 levels of confidence and attitudes toward science were similar for boys and girls. TIMSS and NEMP both provide evidence that students in their middle primary years have positive attitudes towards science. Eight out of 10 Year 5 students in the most recent TIMSS research indicated they would like to do more science at school.
However, this interest declines as students move through school and in the Competent Learners study science was one of the least enjoyed school subject for students at both age 14 and 16. 3. 5. 2. Career aspirations According to some measures New Zealand is performing relatively well in producing students with the ability and achievement to go on to STEM careers and it seems that the careers are available to them. PISA developed a tool to measure ‘research intensity’ which correlates the proportion of top performing school students with the number of full-time science researchers per 1000 employees.
Only Finland outperformed New Zealand, suggesting that we have both a better supply of students equipped for scientific careers and more career opportunities for them than most other OECD nations. However, even our successful students are not well-informed about career options and relatively few of them see themselves moving into advanced science careers. PISA found that just 39% of top performers said they would like to spend their life doing ‘advanced science’ and on this dimension New Zealand students scored below even the OECD average.
Asian students were more likely to be positive about advanced science than other students, and Maori students less likely than their peers to express this interest, important information if we aspire to a diverse scientific workforce that reflects New Zealand’s population. Recent New Zealand research surveyed students studying science in Year 13, their final year of schooling. Four clusters of students were identified based on the combinations of subjects they were taking and with some distinct differences in career aspirations. Serious science’ students who were taking more than one traditional science subject tended to have their sights set on medicine, dentistry or veterinary science; ‘business/science’ students who may have chosen physics and calculus in combination with some form of computer science were sceptical that science offered a sufficiently rewarding career and were looking towards the business sector; the other two clusters who were for different reasons taking a more diverse selection of subjects including some science, were keeping options open and were more undecided about their future study and career plans.
Page A-31 Annex A: Inspired by Science NEMP, Competent Children, Competent Learners and Staying in Science all confirm that here, as in other countries, children are making up their mind about their interest in science and in science careers well before age 14 when they are approaching the point of having more choice in the subjects they study. 3. 6. Opportunities to learn science In New Zealand the school-based curriculum makes it difficult to judge the opportunities students have to learn science.
The New Zealand Curriculum is strongly focused on the skills and qualities our education system is trying to develop in learners, and while schools must offer students opportunities in each of the eight learning areas, schools have a large degree of freedom in what, when and how they teach. There can be enormous variation in the amount of time given to teaching science as well as in the teaching approaches, the organisation and the content of the programmes. The data about the actual implementation of science in schools are not comprehensive but what follows gives some useful insights. 3. 6. 1.
Time Evidence suggests that New Zealand’s students in primary school do not spend as much time learning science as their counterparts in other countries. TIMSS reports that in 2006 Year 5 students in New Zealand spent an average of 45 hours a year on science (down from 66 hours in 2002) and that only six participating countries reported spending less time on science. NEMP data show that in 2007 more students at both Year 4 and Year 8 indicated that their class ‘never’ did experiments with everyday things, experiments with science equipment, or visited science activities than in 1999. Science may e getting less attention because of increased demands from other curriculum areas, but it also appears that there has been a particular decline in the science activities that students find most stimulating. The percentages of students who said they think they learn ‘little’ about science at school also almost doubled between 1999 and 2007 (from 8 to 16% for Year 4 students and 6 to 11% for Year 8 students) with even more of an increase in the percentages saying that their class ‘never’ does really good things in science (from 5 to 15% for Year 4 students and 8 to 16% for Year 8 students).
However, it is important that primary school students’ perceptions of time spent on science are put in the context of the cross-curricular approach taken in many primary school classrooms. It is for example possible that primary students may not actually recognise how much science they are doing as primary schools commonly call science learning “topic” or “inquiry”, rather than science. Conversely, primary teachers’ lack of confidence in science teaching could mean that even when an integrated topic has a significant opportunity for learning science, this may not be realised.
At Years 9 and 10 science is commonly taught for three or four 50-60 minute lessons a week, but the amount of time students spend in science lessons becomes more variable after Year 10 when students have greater subject choice. Page A-32 Annex A: Inspired by Science In PISA 2006 almost two-thirds of New Zealand students indicated they spent four hours a week or more on school science lessons, a figure comparable to the UK but more than double that of Finland and the OECD average. One in six New Zealand students said they spent less than two hours a week on regular lessons.
Across all OECD countries students spending more than four hours a week studying science generally scored higher than those studying science for two or less hours a week. However, PISA cautions that there is a range of ways 15 year-old students are exposed to science both within and beyond school with in-school lessons being just one context for learning science. 3. 6. 2. Quality The level of primary teachers’ knowledge and confidence in teaching science is often cited as an obstacle to quality science teaching in primary schools.
TIMSS reports that compared with their international colleagues, New Zealand primary teachers had relatively low levels of pre-service specialisation in science and received less on-going professional development. The 2010 Education Review Office report Science in Years 5-8: Capable and Competent Teaching found that most schools in their study faced some challenges in developing high quality science education, that most primary teachers did not have a science background and that low levels of science knowledge and science teaching expertise contributed to the variation in quality of science teaching across schools.
The report also noted that many teachers had not learned about science in their pre-service teacher training. A recent, unpublished report into the sustainability of school development in 10 New Zealand primary schools found that there has been very little systemic support for science teaching for many years, that once teachers have completed pre-service training which may or may not have included much science content, there was minimal support to continue their professional learning in science. Furthermore, there has been virtually no policy attention given to the teaching of science.
The current level of supply of quality secondary science teachers is difficult to judge. In NZCER’s 2006 National Survey of Secondary School’s approximately one third of principals reported difficulty in recruiting suitable applicants for teaching vacancies in science. Teach NZ Scholarships, which target areas of highest need, in 2010, as in other recent years, include scholarships in chemistry and physics. However, the 2010 Ministry of Education survey monitoring teacher supply, indicates that teaching vacancies in New Zealand have decreased over recent years.
Only 9. 3 percent of secondary teaching vacancies were in science in 2010 (compared with 11. 6 percent in 2009). According to this source at the beginning of 2010 there were no vacancies in physics or chemistry. 3. 6. 3. Organisation The New Zealand Curriculum is often described as ‘seamless’ which means that students in Year 1 study in the same learning areas as secondary students but with simplified learning objectives. This means, for example, that both five year-olds and 15 year-olds will study earth systems with the learning bjective for five year-olds being ‘to explore and Page A-33 Annex A: Inspired by Science describe natural features and resources’, and for the 15 year-olds it is to ‘investigate the external and internal processes that shape and change the surface features of New Zealand’. Primary science is seen as a simplified version of secondary science. In New Zealand primary schools science is rarely taught by subject specialists nor is it timetabled into the school week in the same ways that language or maths usually is.
Commonly, schools have a topic or a theme that spans several weeks and which may, or may not, have a science focus. Even if the topic or theme lends itself to developing scientific ideas or thinking there is no guarantee that this will be explored. For these reasons it is very difficult to get any accurate measure of just how much science is taught in primary classrooms. Science is a compulsory subject till the end of Year 10. Many schools also require students to study science in Year 11.
In PISA 2006 over 90% of 15 year olds in New Zealand were involved in some type of science course. Of these 90% of students, over 70% were enrolled in compulsory courses and about 40% in an optional course. (Some were involved in both. ) Most schools continue to offer an integrated science programme in Year 11 but a small number offer discipline specific courses at this level. In some schools some students are offered an ‘alternative’ course as they are considered unlikely to be successful within a more traditional science course.
Years 12 and 13 are characterised by huge variety in science courses taught from integrated courses, to mixes of two disciplines (such as chemistry and physics) to traditional, discipline-specific courses. Scholarship examinations at Year 13 are discipline-specific so the most able students are likely to be taking traditional courses at this level. A snapshot survey of secondary schools taken in 2007 found a higher level of self-reported course innovation in science than in any other curriculum area with 46% of responding schools reporting innovative changes to science courses.
The most common reason for the innovations was that they wanted to create ‘a more coherent focus for the chosen context’. 3. 6. 4. Teaching approaches PISA provides some contextual information about school activities designed to promote the learning of science. The percentage of New Zealand students in schools (that according to principals) promoted engagement through excursions and field trips, science competitions, extra-curricular science projects and science fairs was above the OECD mean for each category.
PISA also collected information on teaching from students. New Zealand 15 year olds reported greater use of interactive teaching approaches (activities that are designed to stimulate discussion) compared with either the use of models and applications, or hands on activities. This pattern was similar across the OECD countries. TIMSS 98/99 created an index of teachers emphasis on scientific reasoning and problem solving based on teachers’ reports of how often they asked students to explain the reaPage A-34 Annex A: Inspired by Science oning behind an idea, represent and analyse relationships using tables and graphs, work on problems for which no immediate solution was obvious, write an explanation of an observation and describe why it happened, and put events or objects in order and give a reason for the organisation. On average, internationally 16% of Year 9 teachers placed a high value on these scientific reasoning and problem solving skills whereas just 4% of New Zealand’s teachers did so. This may have changed in the past decade but we are unaware of evidence that suggests that it has.
The age-16 phase of the longitudinal Competent Children, Competent Learners study found science (and maths) teachers were less likely than teachers of other subjects to identify any of the following features of their class: • We have lots of fun. • Students do a lot of group activities and discussions. • Students have the opportunity to act on issues that concern them. • Students are encouraged to assess others’ work and give them feedback. • Students are encouraged to lead group projects/ class activities. • Students interact with people outside school as part of their school work.
There are a number of recent New Zealand PhD theses that address issues related to how science is taught and these may be able to add useful insights especially given the somewhat patchy evidence currently available. 3. 7. In summary The evidence we have available about achievement and engagement is mixed. If we accept that an important outcome of science education is that nearly everyone engages positively with science, then the high proportion of New Zealand students who do not want to continue with science beyond the point when it is no longer compulsory is cause for concern.
Although we have a higher proportion of top performers in science than in many other countries our achievement data also reveal too many students leave formal education having gained little from their science education. If the main aim of science education is to provide a supply of future scientists then we can be relatively happy with the how well New Zealand’s top students are performing but perhaps less comfortable with how well informed our students are about career choices and their ambivalence about taking up science related careers.
The strong link between students’ socio-economic background and achievement in science, and the over-representation of some groups among the low achievers means that some groups are more excluded from science than others and this has implications both for the diversity of our science workforce and for issues of social justice. On the other hand New Zealand students’ relative strengths in identifying scientific issues and using scientific evidence (as identified in PISA) could be seen as a positive sign that we are equipping students well for a future where many of the issues they will face are as yet unknown.
Page A-35 Annex A: Inspired by Science Science education as currently delivered does not seem to be preparing students as well as it could either for careers in science or as citizens who can confidently engage with science related issues. However, even if students were doing extremely well on current measures the question remains whether doing more of the same (or even doing it better) meets the needs of our changing world. In the next chapter we review changes in society, work and young people, changes in the purpose of schooling and in science itself. 3. 8. Notes to Section 3